Sorry, Apple Watch Sales Aren't on the Decline

To loosely paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of declining Apple Watch sales were an exaggeration. What Mr. Twain really said was, "The report of my death was an exaggeration," but the sentiment is pretty much the same: Apple Watch sales were much healthier than some reports claimed.

Declining Apple Watch sales? Not according to Apple.Declining Apple Watch sales? Not according to Apple.

Slice Intelligence said it's own market research showed a sharp decline in Apple Watch sales shortly after its April launch, relatively level sales through May, and then a clear decline in June. Apple CEO Tim Cook shot that report down on Tuesday near the end of the company's third fiscal quarter earnings conference call.

Mr. Cook said almost off handed, "On the [Apple] Watch, our June sales were higher than April or May."

His remark stands in contrast to Slice's data, which indicates sales were declining, not better than April's launch and May. The research company collects its data from emailed sales receipts it culls from shoppers who agree to participate in their market research program. That information ought to be a fairly reasonable representation of product sales, but in this case it turned out to be off base.

Mr. Cook tossed out another tidbit to help explain the increased sales for June when he added, "The watch had a more back-ended skewing." That doesn't jibe with Slice's report, but Apple is in a better position to know exactly what it's sales numbers are.

What we don't know, and can't easily sort out from the numbers Apple is providing, is how many smart watches did the company sell during the quarter. Apple said last September it wouldn't break out Apple Watch numbers, and the company followed through on that promise today by staying tight-lipped.

"As you know, we made a decision in September not to disclose the shipments on Apple Watch," Mr. Cook said. "This isn't a matter of not being transparent, but rather of not giving our competition insight."

While that sounds a lot like not being transparent, it isn't hard to see why Apple is playing its cards close to its chest. Apple is already most likely the single largest smart watch seller on the planet, and any information competitors can get could potentially help them gain a stronger position in the market.

Apple's staid opaqueness about its smart watch sales make it difficult and frustrating to figure out how good—or bad—sales really are, which leaves us with firms like Slice to try to fit the puzzle pieces together. What we learned today is that even with seemingly reliable resources, it's still possible to completely miss the mark, and in this case it means Apple Watch sales have been climbing, not shrinking.